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Xilis and MD Anderson Announce Strategic Collaboration to Advance Novel Technology and Accelerate Therapeutic Development

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NOTE: Duke Capital Partners portfolio company Xilis is a Duke University start-up that was spun out by Xiling Shen (BME, Pratt) and Shiao-Wen David Hsu (Medicine, SOM).

This article first appeared on the Cision PR Newswire website.

HOUSTON and DURHAM, N.C., Feb. 15, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Xilis, a pioneering biotech company advancing its proprietary MicroOrganoSphere™ (MOS) Platform to enable functional precision medicine and high-confidence drug development for cancer patients, and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center today announced a strategic collaboration to deploy Xilis’s proprietary MicroOrganoSphere™ (MOS) technology in support of preclinical research to accelerate the development of novel cancer therapies. 

Under the agreement, the two organizations aim to advance drug development and discovery projects utilizing the MOS platform, which enables translational research on patient-derived micro tumors with new capabilities and at a scale not possible with current in vivo models. If successful, this platform may offer opportunities for third-party collaborations to guide the development of new drugs and cell therapies. 

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current xenograft and organoid models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” said Dr. Xiling Shen, CEO and co-founder of Xilis. “We look forward to working with the MD Anderson team to discover and develop the next generation of cancer treatments, and we welcome further conversations with pharmaceutical firms for tripartite drug development opportunities.”

The MOS platform at MD Anderson will be run jointly by the Xilis and MD Anderson teams, and the collaboration will be led by three MD Anderson scientists: Timothy Heffernan, Ph.D., vice president of Oncology Research for MD Anderson’s Translational Research to AdvanCe Therapeutics and Innovation in ONcology (TRACTION) platformScott Kopetz, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology, and Katy Rezvani, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy.

The MOS technology provides the first reliable platform to rapidly assess how a patient’s tumor responds to a wide variety of cancer drug modalities within 14 days of obtaining harvested tumor cell samples while also sustaining the native tumor microenvironment. This is essential for determining the full spectrum of therapeutic effects, including immuno-oncology, in the clinic.

The platform also is capable of accelerating the development of disease models, enabling new opportunities to further support discovery research, translational science and drug development efforts. The collaborators intend to explore how the MOS platform could be used to establish new patient-derived models underrepresented in the field, such as rare cancers and treatment-resistant disease.

“The ability to rapidly screen many drugs ex vivo and to build an expansive catalog of disease models addressing unmet needs opens new avenues to advance impactful medicines,” Heffernan said. “Our collaboration with Xilis will allow us to evaluate this exciting technology as a tool to improve the scale, speed and capabilities of our translational research efforts.”

The TRACTION platform, a core component of MD Anderson’s Therapeutics Discovery division, is designed to accelerate the development of innovative cancer therapies and to identify the right treatment for the right patients. MD Anderson’s natural killer (NK) cell therapy program, led by Rezvani, is advancing novel treatments for a variety of cancers using engineered cord blood-derived NK cells.

“Developing impactful cell therapies requires an accurate determination of which cells can produce the desired effect prior to introduction in patients,” Rezvani said. “In collaboration with the Xilis team, we aim to deploy the MOS platform to enable rapid screening and increase our chances of clinical success in our NK cell therapy program.”

About MD Anderson

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston ranks as one of the world’s most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. The institution’s sole mission is to end cancer for patients and their families around the world. MD Anderson is one of only 53 comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). MD Anderson is No. 1 for cancer in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hospitals” rankings and has been named one of the nation’s top two hospitals for cancer since the rankings began in 1990. MD Anderson receives a cancer center support grant from the NCI of the National Institutes of Health (P30 CA016672).

About Xilis

Based in Durham, North Carolina, Xilis, Inc. is a pioneering biotech company developing a functional precision oncology platform that guides treatment decisions for oncologists to improve cancer care outcomes for patients and enables drug discovery and development with pharmaceutical companies. Xilis’ proprietary MicroOrganoSphere™ (MOS) Platform generates miniature patient tumors that capture the full microenvironment and heterogeneity and provides an automated and scalable solution. Using MOS and AI-driven algorithms, Xilis is developing a Xilis Response Score™ for the clinic, enabling oncologists to make informed and timely treatment decisions. Additionally, the MOS Platform is speeding up the discovery and clinical development of new drug candidates. To learn more about Xilis, visit

Founded in 2019 by Dr. Xiling ShenDr. David Hsu, and Dr. Hans Clevers, Xilis is based on decades of biomedical, oncology, and stem cell research by its three co-founders. Dr. Clevers, a Breakthrough Prize winner, is the inventor and pioneer of organoid technology. Dr. Shen is an engineer with a strong track record of successful innovation at the intersection of biology and engineering, and multiple previous appointments in academia, including at Duke University. Dr. Shen recently left Duke University and now serves as CEO of Xilis. Dr. Hsu is an oncologist and medical professor at Duke University, and an expert in precision medicine. The Xilis team has developed the scalable MOS technology to analyze patients’ own tumors in their native microenvironment – a breakthrough achievement.

Media Contact for Xilis:
Juliet Travis
Liftoff Communications

Media Contact for MD Anderson:
Clayton Boldt, Ph.D.
Public Relations